The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 6 “Slowly by Slowly”

A few years ago, when I still hoped the Orthodox church would not become a full part of our lives, when I looked on this faith as a distant second cousin, one I was fond of and respected but didn’t necessarily invite for Sunday dinners, my husband met a Bishop who was attending Divine Liturgy.

“I hope to become Orthodox, one day” my husband said. He graciously didn’t add “but there’s this little problem with my wife…..”

The Bishop looked at him, clasped his hands, and said “I want to say ‘Yavash, Yavash’ Slowly, Slowly. We’re not going anywhere”.

This phrase is actually Turkish (“yavaş yavaş”) and while it means “Slowly, Slowly”, it seems to mean more than this. It means “to do something quietly,thoughtfully,without attention from others”.

One thing about this Orthodox journey – no one is in a hurry for us to jump in like we would a swimming pool on a hot day. No one minds that we are going about this more carefully than we’ve done anything in our lives. No one minds that we question, and read, and question some more. In fact – the Bishop’s words to my husband are the way this journey is encouraged.

Orthodox faith is like a slow hike up a tall mountain. You periodically have to stop and rest, take a long drink,and then move on. You are encouraged to do so by those who have gone before. It used to be that those interested in the Orthodox church were given years of intense instruction before being encouraged to be baptized. During this period the one new to the church is called a catechumen — “one receiving instruction in the basic doctrines of Orthodoxy before admission to communicant membership in the Church”. The understanding was that the Church held mysteries that were not immediately available to the one who was ‘seeking’, that it was a slow belief process, not an easy ‘beliefism’. The Church wanted the catechumen to understand that the call of this faith was serious, the demands were huge, the walk of the faithful a steady discipline.

This is far from the practice of many modern-day protestant churches and I find myself occasionally uncomfortable in the Orthodox church, as one who ‘doesn’t belong’. I’ve begun to understand what it was like for my friends who did not believe but occasionally came to churches because something, someone drew them there, to understand why they sometimes thought we spoke ‘Martian’. In a way it’s like the words of the Beaver to Lucy about Aslan: it doesn’t feel safe, but it feels good, it feels right.

For entering Orthodoxy has been like entering a new country, one that I am completely unfamiliar with. I don’t know the language, the practice, or the ‘rules’. A country where I don’t have a passport or visa stamp, just an interest and a strong sense that I am walking in obedience. I sit on the outside looking in to something that I alternately long for and push away.

I am in this process slowly by slowly, yavaş yavaş, attentive to what I don’t know, what I don’t understand. I am humbled by this journey, I feel like a child who “thinks she’s mastered the art of bow tying only to realize that one loop doesn’t make a bow.”*

I am the Reluctant Orthodox and I walk this journey slowly by slowly, sometimes frustrated, sometimes delighted, but always learning.

*source unknown

9 thoughts on “The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 6 “Slowly by Slowly”

  1. My husband and I just became catechumens last week and are excited and I’m also terrified! It is beautiful reading your processing of your journey. It has moved far more quickly and less methodically for us, but I trust that God is at work and I am thankful more than anything for a common spiritual ground my husband and I can share and appreciate. We have struggled to get through our different albeit similar hurtful experiences in various church settings in the past, to set aside our cynicism and find a way to “do church” together. It seems like Orthodoxy will be that path for us. May God continue to help you in your struggle! And thank you again for sharing your journey.

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    1. I love this comment, not least because it so represents our story and our spiritual journey, including the words “similar hurtful experiences in various church settings in the past, to set aside our cynicism and find a way to “do church” together.” Yes. For us as well. Thank you so much for coming into the journey through reading..

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  2. In Greek, the saying is “sega sega”, and I think the closest English translation might be “Slowly, but surely”, but I think the English saying presumes too much knowledge on the part of the seeker (as if we are all really sure of the path we are taking sometimes). I have a Greek Liturgics professor who uses the Greek phrase in English literally as you have used it; he says “slowly by slowly” all the time.

    Glory to God who makes all things beautiful in his time and not ours.

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  3. Slowly, slowly. In Hindi we said, “diray, diray”…In Urdu, “ahista, ahista” —both seem to speak to the “slowly, slowly” of becoming. It holds out promise that you will become. It concentrates on the process, the journey, the becoming….
    When we first returned from South Asia we said it in English–although possibly without the same effect, “Slowly, Slowly.” I think it’s time to reintroduce it!
    Marilyn….I love it that you are pushing into Orthodoxy. Thank you that you are leading us in with you….slowly, slowly!

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  4. As I’ve been reading your posts, I’ve wondered how conversation would go between you and my friends who have left the (mainly Arab), Orthodox church. I think the issues you raised in this post are the crux of the matter for my friends. Although they loved the traditions and community of being born into the Orthodox community, they felt that they never actually heard the gospel until they were adults and heard it in some other context. You wrote that “the Church held mysteries that were not immediately available to the one who was ‘seeking’”, and in least their cases, this was true for those born into the church as well. The gospel was never clearly stated and they felt that they would get to heaven simply because they were born into the Orthodox community – in other words, they weren’t Muslims. As a evangelical Protestant, this is very odd for me and I wonder what the bibilcal justification is for this approach. I’m not trying to be combative, I actually want to know in order to understand my Orthodox brothers and sisters better. Thoughts?

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    1. Thanks for engaging in this Anne. And I don’t see you as combative at all. You bring up good questions. From my limited time in this journey, I would say that the gospel is present in every liturgy, in Icons, in prayers that are said regularly. As is often the case with children that grow up in Christian homes, often the explanations after one leaves home feel more complete. Does that mean that the message was not present, or is it that our eyes and ears become so used to a certain way of hearing things and doing things that we grow too familiar? I will say purely from my own experience, the gospel message in Orthodoxy feels multidimensional. The lives of the saints, something I was completely unfamiliar with, show the gospel lived out beyond the early church that we read of in Acts. What else would have people singing on the way to their martyrdom other than a transformational gospel message? In terms of cradle Orthodox — on the one hand if in a church that is alive, they have the opportunity of moving forward in what Orthodox call “theosis and a sacramental life of faith. On the other hand if the church is merely a building and doesn’t give examples of what a life of faith looks like then they could easily end up without a sense of what Orthodox believe and how this plays out. To be honest however, I see the same thing in Evangelical protestant churches. This is all stuff I wrestle with as well. I think my frustration is the dismissal of each other on both sides of the aisle. Protestants dismissing Orthodox as non believers and vice versa. This is getting long and would probably go well with a cup of chai, but there you have it.

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  5. Marilyn, thank you for explaining your feelings so clearly. My husband is Armenian and grew up in the Eastern Orthodox church. On the occasions when we have gone to such a church, my head has been full of questions which he couldn’t answer. For instance, what is the significance of the ornate vestments and gold staff and such objects in the worship of the Orthodox church? I was used to much more sober clothing in a Protestant church, and as a child of missionaries, the gospel was paramount, so the golden objects fascinated and repelled me at the same time, since it appeared that so much more could have been done with the money than to create beautiful objects…Do you have any insight on this question?

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    1. Maureen – so glad you commented, engaging with this post. So I don’t know a ton about this – what I know about Icons is that they are to aid in worship as windows to the lives of those who have gone before. I wrote about icons last week. In terms of priests clothing – there is a lot of symbolism — white symbolizing a robe of Salvation I believe. an outer cloak that is supposed to remind the priest that they are to serve and care for the people in their lives and actions. As far as golden objects – what helped me is to read the Old Testament and see the amount of gold, time, and beauty that was put into the Temple. It was incredible. No expense was spared. How this is to play out in our lives, I’m not sure – but for 2000 years there has been money spent on making places of worship beautiful. Our Parish is lovely, but we spend a fraction of what other churches I have gone to spend on upkeep. This is all a journey as you can see so thanks for bearing with me as I write this!

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